‘Living A Dark Night… In Continuum’ was a collateral program of the exhibition Living A Dark Night held at KCC as part of the AMI Arts Festival 2022.
About 2 years back, Paula Sengupta in collaboration with Kala Chaupal (creators of Living A Dark Night) invited artists to come together to hear the anguish caused by COVID-19 and register it for posterity, lest history forgets. The works in this initiative encapsulate a time of despair and anxiety, when artists withdrew into the studio as the only space of refuge. Executed in a space of isolation, these prints look from deep within to the spectre without… but also from darkness to light.
To quote Vincent Van Gogh, “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” All artists who were a part of ‘Living A Dark Night… In Continuum’ echoed similar sentiments. Over 120 artists, belonging to three categories – students, art educators and artists – responded to the call during the second wave of COVID-19 and rose to the occasion to help the country heal through the medium of printmaking.
When someone says the word COVID, we all go back to a Kafkaesque reality where everything is dark, gloomy and bleak. COVID reminds us of a time when everything was uncertain. Day to day life became a drudgery. The monotony made each and every one feel agitated. Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream is an apt representation of the state of mind that we all had to undergo. The whole world was plunged into a seemingly never-ending loop of nightmares. When all else fails, art remains. Art affects you in a way nothing else can. Art can move you. Art instills in you a desire to live, love, have faith, and hope for a better tomorrow.
AMI Arts Festival, on 19th December 2022, presented a webinar titled ‘Living A Dark Night… In Continuum’. The list of panelists for the webinar was composed of Paula Sengupta and her team of artists, comprising Nilanjan Das (Printmaker), Avni Bansal (Visual Artist), Pathik Sahoo (Artist), Srikanta Paul (Printmaker and Installation Artist), Kavita Shah (Artist and Art Educator), Nandini Chirimar (Visual Artist). The webinar was accompanied by PowerPoint presentations made by the panelists.
Pathik Sahoo recalled the pandemic lockdown as being extremely hard and lonely, but something he gradually got used to. The lockdown presented him with an unexpected opportunity – no studio was required for his work and he could finally experiment with different mediums. He presented these works during the session and gave an account of his travels through different villages during COVID.
Srikanta Paul’s works are inspired from songs, films, personalities like Bob Marley, incidents happening around him and politics. Some of his self-portraits are inspired by the Nandigram incidents. A very political artist, his medium of choice is black and white. In his words, his works are a “political product”. Hence, his being a part of the project was inevitable.
There was an air of anguish surrounding the artists during the lockdown. People were dying without treatment and many questioned whether it even made sense to produce art. The import and nuances of an artwork seem to get completely lost in the virtual space. It was during this time that Living a Dark Night provided the artists with the motivation to start working again.
For Nandini Chirimar, COVID deepened her connection with space and printmaking. She worked with line and space using the black and white medium. For her, less is always more which is evident in her work.
Her works show the presence of people in spaces without actually having people in them. She works with the theme of isolation and a play of light and darkness can be seen in her pieces. She works with Japanese woodblock printing and in her presentation one could see collages made with the pieces she had rejected due to some small errors in them.
Her works are abstract but somehow, conjoined together, they seem to convey their message perfectly. Her pieces show the disintegration and refiguration of the mind and an alternate reality which every one of us was living in during the pandemic.
She gives her audience assurance by stating that, ‘we are all living a dark night but there is hope to be found. A secret hope which all of us harbor in our hearts.’
For Nilanjan Das, printmakers act as a facilitator between art and society. His motive is to make art more democratic, accessible and interactive for the viewers. His presentation focused on Chitpur which has a diverse community along with a vivid local history and culture.
In what he calls “Chitpur Memory Game”, an interactive session with school children conducted in 2016, Mr. Das engaged children to work on different signages which he shed light on through his presentation.
Avni Bansal focused on the interactive aspect of printmaking. Printmaking has many advantages like the ability to print multiple impressions, ability to experiment with various mediums and techniques, ability to produce versatile textures, backgrounds and effects and it also encourages the community to participate in creating art. In reference to her presentation “The Grid”, she quotes, “Set on exploring screen printing as a participatory medium, where the creator is not a single screen printer, it was the nostalgia base of grid art to evoke the chill inside every viewer.” She tries to ensure that her experiences can be shared by her audience through interaction.
Kavita Shah focused on the ambiguity and isolation faced by an artist. The words which come to our mind while looking through her work are isolation, uncertainty, insecurity, fear of the unknown, death and paranoia. An element of nature and a symbol for enclosed spaces can be seen in all her works, which seem to convey the physical distances created between people due to COVID-19.
While looking through her works, the words of Mexican poet and academic Cesar A Cruz come to mind. He once said, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”, and her art seems to convey this perfectly.
These works ought to be looked at in the context of the pandemic and how important it was to document a dark and critical period in our history. Black and white relief printmaking has been used across the world to express social and political protests, anguish, anxiety and general angst. There are perhaps darker times yet to come in the world than we’ve been taught to expect, but there is light to be found at their end.